Courses take Dartmouth students around the world

by Cristian Cano | 1/17/17 2:10am

The six-week period of time between fall term and winter term is a time when most students can take a break from their difficult classes and maybe catch up on some Netflix. However, a few classes didn’t end with fall term exams: Several upper-level classes in a variety of departments incorporated an international travel component during winter break. Traveling to countries including India, Poland and Ukraine, certain Dartmouth students challenged themselves across the globe while their peers relaxed at home.

Kristen Chalmers ’17 traveled to Madurai, India through the class Biology 70, “Biologic Lessons of the Eye.” Over the course of the term, she and her classmates had been preparing research proposals to present at a conference in Madurai.

“I presented on a novel treatment for onchocerciasis, which is a neglected tropical disease that’s mainly found in Africa and sometimes found in South America,” she said.

While in India, Chalmers also had the opportunity to learn about the Indian eye care system through tours of labs and eye hospitals with which her professor had a partnership. Chalmers described the experience as educational, giving her a new perspective about healthcare.

“The way they do eye surgery in India, at least at the hospital we were at, is totally different than how you do it in the U.S.,” she said. “You have multiple patients in the same room, and it’s incredibly efficient. I think it challenged a lot of our notions of what high-quality health care means.”

While her days were busy with the conference, Chalmers and her classmates were able to explore when they had free time. In fact, one of the other students on the trip had family in the area, so the entire class was able to visit their house for dinner one night.

Chalmers is not a biology major, although she is on the pre-health track. She admitted that the trip was a major factor for why she chose to take the class, but even without the trip, she believed that the class would have been a fantastic learning experience.

Nathan Busam ’17 traveled to Kraków and Warsaw, Poland with the class Economics 70, “The Transition of Poland to a Market Economy.” In just over two weeks, Busam found that his perception of Eastern Europe changed.

“I hadn’t really heard of [Eastern Europe] beforehand as a popular destination,” he said. “I was very pleasantly surprised that it was a very happening place, with lots going on.”

Busam and his classmates had to attend lectures, interview locals and work on group projects while in Poland, but they also had the chance to take organized trips to destinations like a salt mine and the Auschwitz concentration camp. At night, students were usually free to do whatever they desired.

A particularly memorable moment for Busam was visiting the salt mine, which he likened to a village. He said he had not expected to find establishments such as churches and cafeterias at the mine.

Polish cuisine, in Busam’s opinion, is perfect for people who enjoy “rich, meaty things.” Dishes such as beet root soup and duck hamburger were quite different than those Busam was used to, but he had the opportunity to embrace a part of Polish culture by learning how to make pierogies.

“[The] food was interesting,” he said. “We actually had a pierogi-making session, which was cool. We had a chef come and teach us how to make pierogies at the hostel.”

While he greatly enjoyed the trip, Busam wishes that he had bonded with his classmates more while still at Dartmouth. He hadn’t gotten close to some of his classmates before the trip began, and he thinks that if he had, the trip would have been even better.

Sarah Han ’17 and Becca Rodriguez ’17 traveled to Kiev and Lviv, Ukraine over the winter break with their Public Policy 85 class, “Global Policy Leadership.” Unlike students of some other trips, they actually met up with their classmates in Washington, D.C. before flying to Ukraine. In D.C., they met with many important figures, including Ohio Sen. Rob Portman ’78, in preparation for their travels.

Much of Han and Rodriguez’s experience involved conducting interviews with Ukrainians on topics such as the state of civil society and the role of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Both Han and Rodriguez expressed their struggles with the language barrier — thankfully, one of the other students on the trip spoke Russian fluently and could assist when no translator was present.

Language wasn’t the only cultural difference that Han and Rodriguez encountered. Both referred to their encounters with waiters as examples.

“The waiters are very inclined to give you their opinion about what you’re ordering,” Rodriguez said.

She elaborated that gender played a surprisingly significant role at the restaurants she visited. One restaurant even had separate menus for women and for men.

“A lot of times when we were in a restaurant, we would go back to a certain cafe a lot, and the waiters and waitresses wouldn’t appear to recognize us,” Han said. “Once we started to talk to people and get to know them, there was definitely warmth, but initially there was not an exuberance about welcoming foreigners.”

Of course, some cultural differences are expected when one visits a different country. However, nothing could have prepared Han for what she said was the worst experience of her life: having her wallet, including her passport, stolen.

As Han was on a busy train back to Kiev, a pickpocket managed to take her wallet without her knowledge. Unfortunately, she didn’t realize it was missing until the train had left the station. Noting another cultural difference between Americans and Ukrainians, she found that those around her were reluctant to stand up and help her search for it.

Thankfully, she visited the U.S. Embassy at Kiev and, after some minor difficulties with getting her passport picture taken, managed to receive a new passport. Aside from an alarmed airport officer who wondered why she didn’t have an entry stamp, everything proceeded smoothly from there.

All four students said they would encourage others to look into such classes in the future. For them, experiencing a new culture, stretching their comfort zone and bonding with their classmates made the uncomfortable moments worthwhile.